France and its European partners are to begin a military withdrawal from Mali after more than nine years fighting a jihadist insurgency, the French president, Emmanuel Macron, confirmed on Thursday. France first deployed troops against jihadists in Mali in 2013 under the Socialist president François Hollande. The intervention successfully stemmed the insurgents’ advance and returned key cities such as Timbuktu to government control, but extremists swiftly regrouped. The withdrawal applies to 2,400 French troops in Mali and a smaller European force of several hundred, which was created in 2020 to reduce the burden on French forces. Relations between France and Mali have deteriorated after two coup d’états and the new military regime’s reluctance to agree to an immediate transition to civilian rule. The French ambassador to the former colony was expelled earlier this month, prompting celebrations in Bamako. The presence of Russian mercenary forces from the private military Wagner group has increased tension, with the EU accusing Mali’s military regime of using them to shore up their own power. The Mali deployment has been fraught with problems for France. Of the 53 soldiers killed serving in its Barkhane mission in west Africa, 48 of them died in Mali.
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